First Click: Don't confuse smart devices with a smart home
May 15th, 201558
Waiting on a complete smart home solution that just works out of the box is like waiting for Godot: he’s not arriving today but surely tomorrow.
It was four years and four days ago that Google announced Android@Home with the intent of extending Android into household objects. Google’s announcement brought the promise of scale and software know-how to an obtuse industry then dominated by companies better suited to drawing up wiring and plumbing schematics than user interfaces. Although Android@Home fizzled like a cool Buzz from a tasty Wave, the announcement put the entire smart home industry on notice: the big brands are coming!
Today the aisles of Home Depot are a testament to the mass consumerfication of smart home products enabled by the internet of things. Nest (now owned by Google) led the way by making something as boring as a thermostat sexy when compared to other smart options of the time. Philips has done the same to light bulbs with its Hue series. But don’t make the mistake of confusing a handful of installed smart devices with a smart home — the latter requires interoperability between the devices. While a smart device can be controlled over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth from your phone, a smart home will automatically dim the lights, lower the blinds, and adjust the heat when you switch on the home theater. Unfortunately, this tyranny of choice is making it harder to figure out what works with what.
We now know that the first Apple HomeKit devices are coming next month but it’s unlikely they’ll work with Nest thermostats or Google-owned Dropcam cameras any time soon. A Hue lightbulb, meanwhile, will work in homes built around both Apple and Google "Works with Nest" ecosystems. God only knows what will work with a Wink light switch, WeMo motion sensor, Samsung dishwasher, or that weird speaker from Amazon.
Ecosystem lock-in is a very real thing. The smart LED bulbs you install in your house could very well dictate the smartwatch you buy which in turn will define your next smartphone, tablet, laptop, TV, the car you buy, and the apps and services you can use. In time, certain home automation protocols will undoubtedly rise to the top and market dynamics will consolidate standards like the company shakeout (that caused Samsung to buy SmartThings) already underway. Until then, those in search of a truly smart DIY home can gamble on their favorite smart device turning into a fully-fledged ecosystem, or stick with the incumbent no-name products built around ZigBee, Z-Wave, and Insteon standards.
Such is the circular nature of experience and existence. Adieu.
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